A man playing a Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con stick drift is a problem that has plagued the platform since its release. Though Nintendo claims to have made changes to newer Joy-Con to mitigate the problem, many people will come across this issue over the course of their console’s lifespan.

What Is Stick Drift?

Stick drift refers to a problem where an analog control stick registers input without being actuated. The stick may drift in a particular direction (for example, to the left), or it may drift in multiple directions depending on the last direction used. Drift may appear suddenly, over time, or seemingly disappear for a while before coming back again.

The Nintendo Switch has a well-documented history with this problem that isn’t necessarily caused by misuse. The Nintendo Switch Pro controller seems to have avoided the issue on a wide-scale basis, unlike Nintendo’s detachable Joy-Con.

You may notice stick drift while playing, but you can also test for the problem using your console’s System Settings > Controllers and Sensors > Calibrate Control Sticks menu. In this menu you’ll be asked to hold a direction on the stick you want to calibrate, then you’ll see a crosshair with either a plus or a dot in it.

If the plus icon isn’t in the center or there’s a dot that seems to move erratically or “lean” in a particular direction, your Joy-Con is exhibiting signs of stick drift.

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What Causes Stick Drift?

The main cause of stick drift of any kind, including controllers from Microsoft and Sony, is wear and tear. Since the analog stick is a moving part, it’s bound to wear out eventually like any similar mechanism.

Controllers make use of a component called a potentiometer to gauge the current position of the stick. Damage to the controller can affect the “neutral” position that the stick is meant to return to when it’s not being tilted in a particular position. This can cause the potentiometer to register constant or erratic movements.

This is often due to dust and debris building up within the mechanism, something that’s likely to affect all controllers with enough use over time. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, this threshold was hit a lot sooner than many expected. Some owners have opened up their Joy-Con to find worn-down contacts inside. Nintendo has never clarified why the issue is so prevalent.

Damage in general to any sort of analog stick may also trigger the problem. This could include spilling liquid on your controller, dropping the controller, or applying excessive downward force on the analog sticks.

Fix 1: Calibrate Your Controller and Dead Zones

If your controller is showing signs of controller drift, it might be worth investigating a proper repair. It is also possible to make the problem better with your console’s calibration tool though. This is especially effective if you have a controller that appears to be pulling in one direction all of the time, but is unlikely to help with erratic movements in all directions.

Head to System Settings > Controllers and Sensors > Calibrate Control Sticks and hold down the analog stick you wish to calibrate. Hit the “X” button on your controller then select “Calibrate” in the warning that appears to proceed. You can then follow the on-screen instructions to fully calibrate your Joy-Con controller.

Calibrate Nintendo Switch Joy-Con

You can also potentially help the problem by calibrating controller dead zones in certain titles. This will need to be done on a game-by-game basis and won’t fix the issue at a system level, but by increasing the dead zone (the threshold by which an input is registered) you may be able to play some titles without drift appearing at all.

Fix 2: Use Nintendo’s Joy-Con Repair Program

The Joy-Con stick drift issue is so widespread that Nintendo now runs a repair program purely to address issues with the controller. Technically the program allows for any Joy-Con issues to be addressed and doesn’t mention stick drift specifically, so you may be able to use it to repair non-functioning buttons, motion controls, or infrared sensors too.

Head to joyconrepair.nintendo.com and fill out the form with your name, email, address, and phone number. You can also provide a reason for repair, though Nintendo presumably tests each incoming Joy-Con for problems anyway. You’ll need to specify the number of Joy-Con you are returning, with a maximum of five possible due to lithium-ion battery regulations.

The main caveat to the service is that you may not get the same color Joy-Con back in the mail. Nintendo requires that you tick a box that states you are happy to receive a “standard color Joy-Con” that’s gray, neon blue, or neon red. Do not include your Switch console or any accessories with your repair request.

Repairs are free for US and Canadian residents. If you live outside of the US or Canada you’ll need to apply for a repair using Nintendo’s local repair hub in your country, and you may be charged for the service. We recommend looking at your country’s warranty and consumer laws to understand your rights concerning this widespread issue.

Fix 3: Repair It Yourself with Spare Parts

If you have a special edition Switch and you don’t fancy taking a chance on Nintendo sending a gray Joy-Con in its place or you’re feeling handy and up to the task, you can try repairing your Joy-Con by yourself. iFixit sells Nintendo Switch Joy-Con replacement joysticks either as a kit (with the tools required) or individually.

Replacement Nintendo Switch analog stick

You can then follow iFixit’s own handy guide to fixing the right Joy-Con or left Joy-Con. If you have a Switch Lite with integrated Joy-Con then there are separate guides to follow for replacing the right analog stick and left analog stick. You can also use these guides with parts you find for sale elsewhere on the web.

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Alternatively, Buy a New Set

Sometimes you need something right away, and if waiting for repairs to arrive or spare parts in the mail doesn’t sound particularly appealing, you can always throw money at the problem instead. You can get a single Joy-Con for $39.99, or get the full set for $79.99.

You may be able to find a deal at a major retailer, or wait for a sale or promotional event to save even more money. You’ll also have access to new color combinations that Nintendo has introduced since your console first went on sale, including Neon Pink and Neon Green.

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Set

Nintendo Switch - Joy-Con (L/R)-Neon Green/Neon Pink Splatoon 2 (Japan Import)

First-party Nintendo Joy-Con controllers in neon pink and neon green. Use the full range of features including motion controls, infrared sensor, and internal batteries to play however you want.

There’s also the possibility to go for third-party Joy-Con, which may be cheaper or have additional features like expanded grips. Unfortunately, many of these options cut corners either in terms of build quality or features and may lack things like internal batteries or motion controls. For best results, we’d recommend buying first-party instead.

Avoiding Stick Drift in Future

The easiest way to avoid stick drift is to never use your Switch, but this isn’t a particularly practical solution, to say the least. Instead, keep a copy of your proof of purchase for any warranty claims you may need to make in the future and have fun with your console.

One practical step you can take if you use your Switch in portable mode is to invest in a hard case. This will prevent crushing pressure from damaging the analog sticks while in a bag, which may cause them to age prematurely.

First-Party Pro Controller

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

First-party Nintendo Switch Pro Controller for using your console in docked mode or when propped up in a static environment. The controller includes motion controls but lacks the infrared sensor found on the Joy-Con while providing a far more comfortable feel in the hand.

You can also buy a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller for use in docked mode, which is a much more comfortable playing experience when set up in front of a TV (or when using your console on a static surface like a table).

RELATED: Should You Buy Extended Warranties?

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Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He has covered a wide range of topics including Apple, security, productivity tips, gaming and more for publications like How-To Geek, Zapier, and MakeUseOf.
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